When I read, I want to be absorbed. Don’t want to hear the television or the neighbor’s dog barking.
For such magic to happen, I have to be emotionally involved.
To care we must be attached, and it’s no different with a book. That means a story with a character I can get behind, someone whose happiness or anguish means more than words.
Wonderful prose and literary devices do wonders, and I’ve stayed with my fair share of books enticed by prose alone. But time is limited with so many books to read out there. If I don’t care for the characters, I put the book down.
A story with memorable characters triggers emotion, right? It brings back past moments, a person, a place — much like a song.
So, reading can be like hearing a song … someone playing a happy or sad canto …
Let’s take “The Pilot’s Wife,” by Anita Shreve. We have lovely descriptions and stunning prose, but also mystery, melancholy, love, and gut-wrenching pain, because the writer lets us in on the character’s thoughts.
Would I have stayed with the story for the beauty of the language alone? Probably not. But the writer made me care, so the noise around me faded to an unnoticeable background. I was emotionally involved, turning the pages like mad.
So, how do I keep the reader absorbed?
Through metaphors, similes, and imagery. Sure. But the devices remain a study in great writing if I don’t get the reader to know the characters. How do I do that? I let the reader in on the character’s thoughts by emploing the use of internal monologue.
Some writing friends suggested I use too much inward reflection. And they’re trying to help, I know, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Internal thought is what captivates, the reason I return to old stories. The only way to show what goes through the character’s mind.
Is that it? No, I’m generalizing to keep the post short, but the idea is the same: Make me remember the characters long after I finish reading the book. How? Give me emotion.
That’s my story, but how about you? What keeps you involved when reading a story?
Photos credit: “Study of a Girl Reading,” oil on panel, by Valentine Cameron Prinsep, courtesy of Christie’s; “A dream … the piano…”, by Ana Inigo Olea — from Wikimedia Commons.